Teaching the Real Adulting

It happened last summer; my first baby turned eighteen and was off to full time college. He had already had a job for a few years and was driving. He knew how to do his laundry, clean, cook a meal, change a tire, and organize his classwork. He was an “adult” according to state law and, of course, according to him.

Not so fast!

That summer was also when he received his driver’s license. He finished Driver’s ed and had quite a few miles of practice behind the wheel. In Texas it doesn’t rain that often in the summer, so it was not unusual for a new driver to be unfamiliar with some of the gadgets in his car. One night when he was driving home from work, he pulled over and called me to say that his window was too foggy to drive.

The conversation went like this:

Me: Turn on the defrost.
New Adult: Where is that?
Me: Seriously? It is the box with squiggly lines where you turn the*air on.
New Adult: Ohhhhhh! That’s what that does. Why did they make it look a steaming hot T.V.
Me: …

Obviously, there were some things we still needed to cover in this area. “Adulting” seems to be a popular term with the younger generation the last few years. A quick search of the internet defines the popular noun/verb as “the practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks.” Teaching kids how to “adult” seems to be a popular idea and a convincing way to get them ready for the world. In fact, there are even “adulting classes” that claim to teach your teenager how to sew, clean, cook, budget, how to go to work and keep a job, and even how to deal with failure. The entire idea seems somewhat bizarre because most of the topics are common sense. Eventually, your soon-to-be-adult will learn these things on his/her without formal instruction. Why are we holding their hands on these mundane skills? Better yet, why do most teenagers need these skills to be taught to them rather than just have a natural ability to do them on their own?

The homeschool atmosphere seems to have taken on this idea of “teaching adulting” and many parents include the subject in their curriculum. This seems even more curious as parents are checking these mundane tasks off the list to be sure to launch their child out into the world when it comes time. There is nothing wrong with mundane tasks—although, making a point to fit them into a curriculum proves that either 1. We no longer trust our children to have common sense and to learn on their own, or 2. We feel that these tasks are necessary to learn before the age of eighteen in order for our teenagers to make it in today’s modern society. These ideas are both wrong. Most teenagers, like we did, learn through experience and this includes both failure and success. I don’t know many grown ups that have no clue how to cook bacon and eggs or do their laundry because their parents never taught them. Most people, even if this was not provided in their younger years, will pick up on the normal tasks and necessities of life. Chores teach kids most of these habits naturally, and anything they do not learn at home, they will learn from their peers. Parents have created a situation where everything is school related, everything is educational, everything is curriculum. Homeschoolers, especially, take the cake on this one.

So…if it not necessary to teach your teenagers how to “adult” in this way—what is the “real adulting”?

Considering my own experience with my newly “adulting” teenager, as well as some of the experiences I have heard from other parents, there are things we do need to teach our teenagers and make sure they understand before leaving the house. It is this list of things that, especially from a long distance, has the ability to make you pull your hair out—possibly from the roots—if your new adult doesn’t know them (warning: this does not include ironing and cooking).

  • Have them memorize their social security number and yours
  • Help them fill out doctor office paperwork early on and know their medical/dental history
  • Be sure they can edeposit a check from their cell phone
  • Have them put furniture together via instructions- do not interfere except to give advice
  • Make sure they know who to call in case of a vehicle break down or wreck
  • Tell them to go get their oil changed regularly on their own
  • If they are attending college, have them do their own paperwork including the FAFSA
  • Teach them how to trouble shoot a computer on the fritz, hook up internet, and find a connection outside of the house
  • Make sure they know how to put out a kitchen fire
  • Advise them in writing their resume
  • This list can be exhaustive depending on the teenager, but the more capable he/she is to deal with the “real” world, the more the “adulting” will start to take shape. A month ago, my “new adult” was home when my dryer went on the fritz. He had his work shirts (all of them, of course) in the dryer at the time. I told him to call up the manufacturer and find out what was wrong with it. He was on the phone for an hour with the dryer pulled out and trying to explain the very little he knew about this appliance to the Samsung tech. He ended up ordering the new part they agreed that he needed. When it came in the mail be pulled up his sleeves and fixed our dryer. I’ll admit, I was impressed. On the other hand, I was relieved that he had finished this task on his own because it takes both patience and grit to pull up one’s sleeves and fix this kind of problem.

    The next day he had his consultation for his wisdom teeth to be extracted and called me several times: What is my social again? Have I ever had a tooth pulled before? Am I allergic to anesthesia? I knew it would be easier to tell him to bring the paperwork home, but I stayed strong and continued to answer the phone. I had to put that controlling side of motherhood away, and this isn’t easy.

    It seems that in today’s world we are desperately trying to figure out how to launch our new adults into the world with all they need. Cooking, cleaning and changing a tire are necessary, but they are also natural. When your teenager calls you to ask about a recipe it is exciting and fun to help him; when he calls you because he still can’t figure out how to correctly apply for a job and work on his resume, it’s not so fun.

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